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Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk
June 21, 2010
Sigma Pi Phi’s 50th Grand Boule
Las Vegas, NV
*As Prepared for Delivery*
Good morning. Thank you all very much. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here for the 50th Grand Boulé.
I want to thank Grand Sire Archon Harris for the invitation to speak on this auspicious occasion as we celebrate over 100 years since the first Grand Boulé was convened in Philadelphia.
Listening to the speakers and watching the performers this morning, I was thrilled and humbled at the same time. We have an incredible collection of talent, ingenuity and inspiration here.
Let me say first that while our individual achievements have earned us the privilege of sharing this brotherhood, we are fortunate to have the support and contributions of our mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters as well.
I dare say few among us would be here today without the support or influence of strong women in our lives. And I’m pretty sure we won’t find any volunteers to dispute this assertion publicly.
We are here today as a testament to the efforts of so many others who came before us. We owe thanks to every man or woman who struggled so that we were able to take advantage of opportunities they could not.
Therefore, let us celebrate and honor this occasion with a measure of humility. And let us recognize the prodigious work of so many who never attended a Grand Boulé and without whom the brotherhood of Archons might not be so successful.
Indeed, as Archon (Khephra) Burns has noted, the founding Archons declared that:
“by concerted action [we might] bring about those things that seem best for all that cannot be accomplished by individual effort.”
Reflecting the spirit of that mission, we should consider the relationship between our individual efforts and our collective impact today.
Let us take a moment to consider our brothers and sisters along the Gulf Coast who are dealing with the BP oil spill, now the worst environmental catastrophe in our history.
They are struggling to get by each day, as are families who have been affected by deadly flooding and devastating storms in our nation’s heartland.
And our prayers go out to every military family that worries about a son or daughter, or a husband or a wife, fighting overseas to protect our freedom here at home.
They deserve special attention and our continued support as they shoulder a heavy burden.
Indeed, these communities are dealing with special challenges while at the same time trying to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
As a member of the President’s Cabinet and the National Economic Council, I can assure you that President Obama is keenly focused on economic recovery.
The seeds of this recovery have been planted and they are real. But we are not satisfied.
We are using every tool available to create as many jobs as possible.
As United States Trade Representative, I serve as the President’s principal adviser and negotiator on trade.
Therefore, I spend about half my time traveling overseas, fighting to win market access for American goods and services.
And as a former mayor, I often look at issues from the perspective of workers in my hometown of Dallas. When I meet with foreign officials, I try to help them better understand American stakeholders’ interests and concerns with respect to trade.
Similarly, here at home I have the responsibility to share with folks around the United States how trade creates jobs and benefits American workers.
It’s an exciting job, because we have a good story to tell about trade. Even though a lot of people are skeptical, the fact is that trade leads to more and better jobs for American workers.
Over the last 9 months, U.S. exports alone accounted for more than 40% of American economic growth.
In fact the data shows clearly that businesses that export grow faster, add jobs quicker, and pay higher wages.
Therefore, in his State of the Union address this year, President Obama set a goal to create two million American jobs by doubling the amount of U.S. exports over the next five years.
And he created the National Export Initiative to get it done.
The NEI is an unprecedented whole-of-government approach that brings together USTR and other Cabinet agencies.
We are undertaking a coordinated effort to boost exports and create jobs – because we can’t afford to leave any jobs on the table.
Boosting exports is critical to our economic recovery in the short-term, but it will also be a key element of our long-term prosperity.
As the President has said:,
“we can’t be satisfied with being number one right now…when other markets are growing and other nations are competing, we’ve got to get even better…we need to up our game.”
In order to maintain our competitive advantages, we need to control our health care costs, become the leader in clean energy technology, and develop the most highly educated workforce in the world.
That’s why the President has passed historic health care reform that will lower costs for workers and businesses.
He has put us on a path to energy independence that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help us create well-paying jobs in clean energy industries.
And President Obama has pressed forward with education reforms that will improve our schools
Let me focus for a moment on education, which is a critical link between trade and jobs.
We live and work in a global economy now, and our kids are going to have to fight for the best jobs with their brains, not their brawn.
High school kids in Dallas aren’t just competing against their peers in Detroit – they’re also going up against students in Dakar and Dubai.
And let me tell you, in my travels I’ve seen first-hand thousands of young people in Africa, Asia, and everywhere in between all studying hard to get ahead.
Around the world millions of children take their school work seriously, because their community leaders have emphasized that education is the surest path to economic stability and success.
As Archons we have lived this story. But unfortunately far too many young African-American men are not similarly motivated today.
According to Census Bureau statistics from 2005, only one out of every 10 young African-American men who graduate high school actually go on to finish college.
In fact, there are actually more young African-American men IN prison than OUT of College.
The social and economic consequences of this discrepancy are not surprising – the unemployment rate for young African-American men averages above 30%, which is roughly three times greater than the general population.
The educational achievement gap among African-American men is a persistent challenge that we must overcome in order to help our youth get better jobs and build a solid foundation for strong families.
And we’ve got to do a better job of preparing the next generation to be a knowledge-driven workforce.
President Obama has put us on a path forward by expanding access to higher education, especially for low-income students.
Earlier this year the President signed legislation that cuts out government subsidies to private lenders.
The bill will save $68 billion over 11 years, and we intend to use that money to raise the maximum Pell Grant to $5,975 by 2017 and provide 820,000 more grants by 2020.
The law also invests $2 billion in community colleges over the next four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for Trade Adjustment aid.
These programs complement our trade agenda by giving students and workers the education and training they need to compete for well-paying jobs.
The Administration’s expansion of access to higher education will provide opportunity to all young Americans.
But sometimes young African-American men need more than just money for college. Sometimes a future leader needs a mentor to ignite his imagination.
As Boulé men we can inspire our youth as mentors.
Many among us have followed unconventional paths to success and all of us have interesting stories to tell.
We have a responsibility to encourage our youth to dream big, and then help them by opening doors along the way.
For example, at USTR we’ve started an externship program with Howard University School of Law to complement our ongoing college internship program. One Howard Law student per year joins our office and works alongside me and my senior staff.
It’s a win-win – we get fresh thinking from the top young minds, and the students get an up close look at how exciting a career in public service can be.
I encourage all of you to get directly involved in the education and career development of the next generation of African-American leaders.
If you are mentoring now, then discuss your experience with others. If you have not yet mentored, find out how and get started.
If every one of us endeavors to mentor the next generation of African-American leaders, then our collective impact will be substantial.
Another way the Boulé can advance the cause is by encouraging all Archons to organize support for historically black colleges and universities.
Deepening relationships between historically black colleges and universities and the Boulé will focus attention and raise awareness of the educational achievement gap among African-American men.
Fellow Archons, I am asking you today to take this challenge with me. Join me in an effort to raise college graduation rates for young African-American men.
Let’s work together in the spirit of “Boulé Men Doing Great Things” so that someday soon there will be more African-American men graduating from college than dropping out of high school, or serving prison time behind bars.
Together we can empower our youth to follow their dreams and fulfill what President Obama called The American Promise:
“…that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well…”
If the founding Archons could hear those words, they would be proud of how far we have come, but they would remind us that there is still more work to do.
I look forward to working with you.